Commentary

New reality changes the landscape for coaches

Originally Published: November 27, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Triple OT Sucks" T-shirts sold separately to LSU (1) fans, who have lost twice at that stage):

Give Thanks, Now Get Lost

Since Thanksgiving, 10 coaching tenures have been severed like turkey necks nationwide. That included six whackings on Black Monday alone, with a seventh set for Tuesday. Looking at the carnage as a whole, one thing is obvious to The Dash:

Winning records don't buy security. Moderate success only breeds lust for bigger success.

Seven of the 10 coaches who were fired, resigned, retired or otherwise rendered unemployed were above .500 in their tenures at their schools. Four of them had winning records this year, and that still wasn't enough.

This seems to be the bottom line in Gridworld 2007: Plenty of schools expect more than going 7-5 with three victories against Directional Tech and a bid to the Cheez Whiz Bowl in Abilene. In that respect, the scheduling shenanigans and bowl proliferation of recent years hasn't produced the desired level of satisfaction -- either administratively or with fans.

Part II of the new reality: Be careful what you wish for, coaches. You make a lot of noise about needing fancy new facilities to compete? Fine. But when you get those facilities you'd better increase the win total. Or the guys who paid for the new bells and whistles will start wondering what the problem is. (See: Texas A&M, Southern Miss, Baylor, Georgia Tech, etc.)

The Dash looks at the 10 rub-outs of recent days:

[+] EnlargeDennis Franchione
Denny Medley/US PresswireDennis Franchione walked away after leading the Aggies to a 7-5 record this season.

Dennis Franchione (2), Texas A&M.

Record: 32-28 overall, 7-5 this year.

Shock value: Didn't even change The Dash's pulse rate. Everyone saw this coming weeks ago.

Capital offense: VIP Newsletter sold to select boosters. Oh, and the 19-21 Big 12 record.

Will he coach again: Yes, but nobody will ever again pay him $2 million a year to do it.

How good is the job: Better than to simply give it away to Mike Sherman (3) at the first available instant. Sherman has been out of college coaching for more than a decade and was fired from his last head-coaching gig, in Green Bay. Maybe he works out great, but Sherman doesn't seem like a dramatic departure from the Fran personality profile.

Bill Callahan (4), Nebraska.

Record: 27-22 overall, 5-7 this year.

[+] EnlargeBill Callahan
Scott Sewell/Icon SMIBill Callahan never embraced the history and tradition at Nebraska.

Shock value: Did not raise any eyebrows. From the day the Cornhuskers gave up 38 first-half points at home to Oklahoma State (Oct. 13, to be precise), this was inevitable.

Capital offense: Never embraced the history and tradition of the Osborne patriarchy, but that could have been a survivable sin if Nebraska didn't flat-out stink in two of his four years in charge.

Will he coach again: Yes. But as a head coach? Doubtful, after being fired from his past two jobs.

How good is the job: Not as good as Nebraska thinks it is. Fan support is unrivaled, but the recruiting base is unreliable and the days of raiding New Jersey for talent might be a thing of the past. Unless the Cornhuskers do some work in Texas and California, this probably won't get turned around very fast.

Successor: LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini (5) and Buffalo head coach Turner Gill (6) already have been contacted. They have Nebraska ties. If it goes outside the Osborne Family Tree, perhaps Wake Forest's Jim Grobe or Navy's Paul Johnson get a look.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireEd Orgeron's 10-25 record made it easy for Ole Miss to give him his walking papers.

Ed Orgeron (7), Mississippi.

Record: 10-25 overall, 3-9 this year.

Shock value: Gum in the lap. Orgeron did an impressively rotten job, but three seasons was a quick hook. Even by SEC standards. And especially given Orgeron's work on the recruiting trail. School prez said less than a month ago that Orgeron would be back "unless something completely insane happens." Which brings us to …

Capital offense: … Orgeron's Egg Bowl-losing decision to go for a fourth-and-1 at midfield, 10 minutes left, with a two-touchdown lead on punchless rival Mississippi State. The Rebels didn't make it, momentum took a 180, and the Bulldogs won 17-14. That would fit the definition of coaching insanity.

Will he coach again: Definitely, but this was probably his only shot as a BCS-level head coach.

How good is the job: If there's a school out there with a more inflated sense of itself than Ole Miss, The Dash wants to see it. This one is totally on a delusional administration and booster nucleus that couldn't tolerate five winning seasons in six years under David Cutcliffe (8), so they offed him. When they whiffed on several bigger names, Orgeron was the consolation prize. Now after three years, Ole Miss cut its losses and will start over. Forgive Cutcliffe for doubling over in laughter right about now.

Successor: None other than Houston Dale Nutt, who will be introduced in Oxford before his boxes are packed in Fayetteville. Score this an F for diversity in the coaching "search," same as Texas A&M. And consider this a hot new rivalry in the SEC West. Nutt will live to beat the Razorbacks for the rest of his life, and perhaps into the afterlife.

[+] EnlargeJoe Novak
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIJoe Novak guided NIU to winning seasons from 2000-06.

Joe Novak (9), Northern Illinois.

Record: 63-76 overall, 2-10 this year.

Shock value: Substantial. He peeled off seven straight winning seasons from 2000-06, after an eight-year streak of losing seasons that occurred mostly on other coaches' watch. By all accounts this was totally Novak's decision -- though it comes after a couple of Fire Novak Web sites popped up. (Yes, really. In the MAC.)

Capital offense: Surrendering 70 to a Toledo team with a losing record in late October might have soured Novak.

Will he coach again: Not after 40 years in the business.

How good is the job: Not bad, by MAC standards. NIU should reasonably expect to collect second- and third-tier Chicagoland talent. That should allow it to compete in a league that has no entrenched power programs.

Successor: Good spot for an up-and-coming assistant who knows the area, like Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley (10) or Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood (11). Or they could always tap one of the Mallory boys -- Mike at Louisville, Curt at Illinois -- if they want to get back to their Bill Mallory roots.

[+] EnlargeTed Roof
Rex Brown/Getty ImagesTed Roof's Duke tenure included a 22-game losing streak.

Ted Roof (12), Duke.

Record: 6-45 overall, 1-11 this year.

Shock value: Zero. Two wins in the past three years isn't good for anyone's longevity.

Capital offense: A 22-game losing streak that stretched across parts of three seasons put Roof at risk. A fourth straight loss to North Carolina might have sealed the deal.

Will he coach again: As someone's assistant somewhere.

How good is the job: You won't get the second coming of Bear Bryant at a school with 12 straight losing seasons, seven of them double-digit losing seasons. But if Wake Forest can become a winner in the manageable ACC, why not Duke?

Successor: Cutcliffe, now offensive coordinator at Tennessee, saw his name surface quickly in connection with this job, as did the man who was just deposed at Georgia Tech (see immediately below).

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
Stanley Leary/US PresswireChan Gailey went 0-6 against rival Georgia.

Chan Gailey (13), Georgia Tech.

Record: 44-32 overall, 7-5 this year.

Shock value: Some surprise, no true shock. Gailey's Yellow Jackets were never bad but rarely great. Advancing to last year's ACC title game was as good as it got -- and it was an awful league in 2006.

Capital offense: Going oh-for-Georgia in six tries.

Will he coach again: Definitely, if he wants to. Perhaps even at Duke. But Gailey might be more coordinator material (NFL or college) than head coach.

How good is the job: Should be very good. Tech sits in talent-rich Georgia and plays in a conference in which the Florida superpowers are slumbering. There are academic hurdles, but the right man could conceivably seize the day and seize the league.

Successor: Early speculation ranges from guys out of the business (Glen Mason, Terry Bowden) to guys in lower leagues (Skip Holtz of East Carolina) to respected coordinators (Will Muschamp of Auburn).

[+] EnlargeJeff Bower
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesJeff Bower finished with 14 straight winning seasons at Southern Miss.

Jeff Bower (14), Southern Mississippi.

Record: 119-82-1 overall, 7-5 this season.

Shock value: Immediate Dash reaction was, "No freakin' way." This has to be the stupidest move of Coaching Carousel Season, no matter what else is to come. (OK, if USC boots Pete Carroll tomorrow, that might be worse.) All Bower has done is compile 14 straight winning seasons, and 15 out of 17, at a school that should never mistake itself for Alabama. Put it this way: Bower's run is comparable to Fisher DeBerry's at Air Force or Sonny Lubick's at Colorado State; they named the field for Lubick at CSU and DeBerry got to hand-pick is his successor. Bower deserved similar respect.

Capital offense: Hell if The Dash knows.

Will he coach again: Absolutely, if he wants to.

How good is the job: It'll be attractive to some hot young assistants or lower-level head coaches who want to pad their resume for a couple of years and then upgrade. Most established coaches will look at what the school did to Bower and steer clear.

Successor: Nobody who would be willing to put 17 years of sweat equity into the place, that's for sure. They saw what happened to the last guy who did that.

[+] EnlargeHouston Nutt
Douglas Jones/Icon SMIHouston Nutt will make the short walk from Arkansas to Ole Miss.

Houston Nutt (15), Arkansas.

Record: 75-48 overall, 8-4 this year.

Shock value: There is no reason a man with his record at this school should be walking out that door, with or without a push. Except that there's so much more to this story than the record. Nutt's situation was as untenable as a Hummer driver going to work for Greenpeace. Everyone needs to move on.

Capital offense: The entire Springdale soap opera, stretching back more than a year ago.

Will he coach again: Already done.

How good is the job: If you like statewide support, high-quality facilities and a healthy paycheck, this is the place for you. Then again, you're hardly in prime SEC recruiting territory and you're battling LSU, Alabama and Auburn every single season. And they're not going away. Many fans wanted more than what Nutt delivered, and The Dash isn't sure how realistic that is.

Successor: It won't be former Arkansan Butch Davis (16), who somehow coaxed an extra year on his contract and more money out of North Carolina for doing a mediocre job in his first year at Chapel Hill. So early speculation starts with Texas Tech's Mike Leach (17), but could spread anywhere.

[+] EnlargeBill Doba
Kirby Lee/US PresswireBill Doba and the Cougars finished 5-7 in 2007.

Bill Doba (18), Washington State.

Record: 30-29 overall, 5-7 this year.

Shock value: Negligible. Doba came into this season under fire, and a losing record didn't figure to be enough to save him. The only question was whether the university would come up with the money (believed to be about $2.8 million) to buy out Doba and his staff.

Capital offense: Zero bowl games since 2003. When Mike Price's players ran out, so did Doba's success.

Will he coach again: He's 67 years old. Seems like a great time to downshift and retire.

How good is the job: Not very. Recruiting to Pullman has to be one of the toughest tricks in I-A coaching. It's a million miles from anywhere, and not worth the trip when you get there. Facilities and budget are modest. The fact that the Cougars have had some noteworthy success in recent years is fairly miraculous.

Successor: Wouldn't be a shock if the school inquired about Mike Price (19) coming back to the Palouse. Just don't know whether Price would be interested.

[+] EnlargeSonny Lubick
Matt Brown/Icon SMISonny Lubick won 108 games as the Rams' coach.

Sonny Lubick (20), Colorado State.

Record: 108-74 overall, 3-9 this year.

Shock value: Not much, though the behind-the-scenes tussle to force out the greatest coach in school history has been surprising and sad.

Capital offense: Steadily declining returns, bottoming out in a 13-game losing streak from 2006 into '07.

Will he coach again: He's 70 years old and set to move into a fund-raising capacity with the school after this.

How good is the job: Not as good as Lubick made it look. It's a definite second-fiddle job to Colorado at a school that seriously lacks fat-cat booster help. Athletic department runs on a small budget, and the football program dramatically overachieved for years.

Successor: Among the names likely to pop up is Jerry Kill (21) of Southern Illinois. Kill's former boss at SIU, Paul Kowalczyk, is now the athletic director at CSU.

[+] EnlargeKarl Dorrell
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireCould UCLA's Karl Dorrell be then next coach to go?

Who could be next:

Karl Dorrell (22), UCLA. Another guy with a winning record who hasn't won enough. The Bruins play USC Saturday. A second straight upset of the rival Trojans might turn the tide in Dorrell's favor -- but then again, that same scenario only led to a pink slip for Franchione just last week.

Who will not be next:

Rich Brooks (23), Kentucky. Rumors that he's set to retire are bogus. Brooks announced when he arrived in 2003 that he wanted to be the longest-tenured coach in Kentucky history. That would only take 10 years on the job, and he's currently halfway there. No sense quitting now that he's got the thing up and running -- though there will be some backsliding next year after consecutive 7-5 regular seasons.

Neither will Charlie Weis (24), of course, after that rousing finish to a 3-9 season. He has survived the program sabotage perpetrated by the Scourge of Humanity. (The price of oil is nearing $100 a barrel; don't even try to tell The Dash that isn't the handiwork of The Scourge.)

If This Were The Other Kind Of Football …

In England, they have a pretty cool soccer meritocracy where you have to earn the right to stay in the division you're in. The bottom team is sent down a division, while the top team from the division below is promoted.

Imagine if that were applied to college football heading into 2008, with demotions from I-A and promotions from I-AA. The Dash imagined just that, conference by conference, using the Sagarin Ratings as a guide and trying to keep promotions and demotions within geographically feasible boundaries:

ACC (25). Demoted: Duke (No. 113 Sagarin). Promoted: Richmond (No. 77) of the Colonial Athletic Association. Ancillary benefit: Evens out state balance to three teams from North Carolina and three from Virginia.

Big 12 (26). Demoted: Baylor (No. 125). Promoted: McNeese State (No. 96) of the Southland. Ancillary benefit: Getting to Lake Charles, La., can't be much harder than getting to Waco.

Big East (27). Demoted: Syracuse (No. 111). Promoted: Massachusetts (No. 74) of the Colonial. Ancillary benefit: No more Big East games in lame dome.

[+] EnlargeJessica White
Andrew H. Walker/Getty ImagesThe Dash has no intentions of relegating Jessica White.

Big Ten (28). Demoted: Minnesota (No. 118). Promoted: Northern Iowa (No. 40) of the Gateway. Ancillary benefit: Any conference that adds punt returner Johnny Gray (consult YouTube for footage of his return against Indiana State from Nov. 10) is better off.

Conference USA (29). Demoted: SMU (No. 169). Promoted: Wofford (No. 83) of the Southern Conference. Ancillary benefit: Who needs the Dallas TV market when you can have Spartanburg, S.C.?

MAC (30). Demoted: Northern Illinois (No. 144). Promoted: Southern Illinois (No. 64) of the Gateway. Ancillary benefit: Keeps the MAC in Illinois.

Mountain West (31). Demoted: UNLV (No. 121). Promoted: South Dakota State (No. 90) of the Great West. Ancillary benefit: Traveling fans cannot lose near as much money in Brookings, S.D., as in Vegas.

Pacific-10 (32). Demoted: Stanford (No. 82). Promoted: North Dakota State (No. 65) of the Great West. Ancillary benefit: Fargo? You betcha!

SEC (33). Demoted: Mississippi (No. 78). Promoted: Appalachian State (No. 66). Ancillary benefit: None. Losing The Grove and all those Ole Miss sorority girls would be a crushing blow to the league.

Sun Belt (34). Demoted: Florida International (No. 182). Promoted: Grambling State (No. 140) of the SWAC. Ancillary benefit: Halftime shows suddenly improve.

WAC (35). Demoted: Idaho (No. 170). Promoted: Montana (No. 99) of the Big Sky. Ancillary benefit: Another dome demoted.

Meanwhile, The Dash is issuing a permanent promotion to Dashette Jessica White (36). She has no business playing at anything but the highest level.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Nobody. Season's over, but check back in September '08.

But The Dash is pleased to provide an update on last week's APB subject, former Washington defensive lineman Steve Emtman (37). The Dash's spies report that Emtman is a successful real-estate developer in eastern Washington, living near his hometown of Cheney. In his spare time Emtman is an assistant coach for the Spokane Shock arena football team.

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in Kansas City, The Dash highly recommends the deluxe barbecue cuisine. Last Friday night The Dash had an obscenely piled meat plate at Arthur Bryant's (38), where they will smash white bread, ribs and fries together in rolled-up paper for to-go orders. That was good -- until The Dash lit into ribs and chicken wings from Gates BBQ (39) on Saturday night after the Missouri-Kansas game. My lord. Dreamland officially has competition for Best Barbecue Ever. Wash it down with a KC microbrew Boulevard Pale Ale (40) and you will be one happy human.

(The Dash's Humanitarian of the Year award goes to Kansas City Star columnist Jason "Big Sexy" Whitlock for personally catering a massive Gates spread in the Arrowhead Stadium for all the visiting media at the biggest college game in KC history. Inhaling ribs at midnight surely violates every tenet of healthy eating -- and nobody cared. Happiest press box ever.)

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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